Though Saturday’s protest in downtown Rogersville was largely peaceful, a total of nine people were arrested at the event and charged with disorderly conduct.
Numerous heated exchanges and profanity could be heard from all around, but no physical altercations took place between members of the opposing groups.
Around an hour into the event, a fight broke out among several counter protesters that was quickly controlled by law enforcement.
This resulted in four men being taken away from the event in handcuffs, one with blood dripping from his mouth. All four of these men were arrested by the Hawkins Co. Sheriff’s Office and charged with Disorderly Conduct.
Several of those arrested were seen wearing shirts that sported white supremacist logos.
Hawkins Co. Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Tony Allen confirmed for the Review that all arrests were from the counter-protest side. No one from The New Panthers, the Johnson City-based group leading the protest, was arrested. However, HCSO neither confirmed or denied the protestors affiliation with white supremacist groups.
Divided by barriers
Saturday’s protest began shortly after 5 p.m. when the New Panthers marched down Depot Street towards town square while being escorted by law enforcement.
However, law enforcement and counter protesters arrived downtown several hours before.
Unlike the June 26 event when counter protestors gathered around the War Memorial, Main Street was blocked off from through traffic. A metal barricade was set up that divided Main Street in half at the Depot Street intersection. The barrier was lined with law enforcement officers on both sides. Protesters were on the west side, counter-protesters on the east side.
Though some of those in attendance were locals, many people had driven into Rogersville from other towns to participate in the event.
As the New Panthers marched down Depot Street, they chanted in unison, “Black lives matter.”
- In response, a female counter protestor could be heard yelling back, “ALL lives matter, motherfer,” and the counter protestors began chanting, “All lives matter.”
This same woman yelled to a nearby protestor, “So if black lives matter, where do you sleep? Under a bridge that I pay for?”
Several NPI members carried signs with messages such as “Hands up! Don’t Shoot!,” “Black Lives Matter,” “Using my white privilege to say Black Lives Matter,” and “Know Justice, Know Peace.”
When they reached the Main Street and Depot Street intersection, where the bulk of the protest took place, NPI members then knelt on one knee and held up one hand in a clinched fist.
After the group did several different chants, members broke off and engaged in conversations with counter protesters. Some of these exchanges got quite heated.
Many of these exchanges were filmed and have been found circulating on social media. Nearly every NPI member carried a cell phone recording video or had a portable camera on their person. Several counter protestors, too, could be seen filming their interactions.
Known white nationalists in attendance
As aforementioned, a group of around five counter protestors were wearing shirts that read “National Socialist Club 131” and bearing the logo for “Good Night Left Side,” which are white supremacist groups. National Socialism is defined as the political doctrine of the Nazi Party of Germany.
Counter protestor Garon Joseph Archer,25, of Johnson City, was with the group wearing these shirts. According to the report by Cpl. Eric Pease, the arresting officer, Archer “became violent and started trying to assault several people in the crowd”.
Archer was placed under arrest and taken away from the event in handcuffs while blood dripped from his mouth. He was charged with disorderly conduct, and taken to the Hawkins Co. Jail where a July 13, 2020 arraignment appearance was scheduled in Sessions Court.
Archer is known to be affiliated with white nationalist groups and was the subject of an article and video interview by the Knox News Sentinel back in September of 2017 at a Fort Sanders rally.
According to this article, Archer was visible in “Democracy Now!” footage of the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The following is a quote from Archer found within the Knox News article, which will be linked to the online version of this article: “The Southern people have a right to be the majority group in their own homeland, and measures must be taken to combat the demographic decline of indigenous Southerners. Anything less is genocide.”
Along with Archer, several of the others arrested, Caleb Dane Rose and Craig Briggs Spaulding, can be linked to social media profiles supporting a known white nationalist group out of Knoxville known as the Legion of Saint Ambrose.
The Daily Times newspaper out of Maryville, also identified Spaulding as a neo-Nazi and a former member of Knoxville’s chapter of the now-defunct Traditionalist Worker Party (TWP).
Lots of planning for law enforcement 11 different law enforcement agencies were on site during the protest.
“I think that Hawkins County has some amazing citizens, and our citizens—except for just a few—respect all,” Allen told the Review. “It’s just like when you have a bad police officer, it makes all police officers look bad. I just hope that people don’t look at one or two people and make it look like that’s how all of Hawkins County is. That’s not what Hawkins County is all about.”
He added, “We didn’t have any injuries to the protestors (aside from the counter protestor who got in a fist fight), and that was significant,” he said. “It was a hot day and we made our way through it.”
As far as the number of hours each of the 11 agencies put into planning for Saturday, Allen said, “I couldn’t put a number on that because each agency had their own plans. There are so many people involved in that. It’s not a one-person job, and it involved many agencies.”
Having tough conversations
The Review spoke with two leaders of the New Panthers on Saturday, both of whom said they felt the protest went well.
“I’m loving it,” Micah Thompson, who is an NPI core member, told the Review during the protest. “I love getting to have these conversations with people. With this particular protest, it hasn’t shown as much change on the surface, but when we were in Elizabethton, I had someone scream at me and tell me to go back to Africa. When I got to talk to them, they even apologized. I even met with them afterwards and had lunch. That’s what I really want to be able to do—talk to people and show what’s really going on and the real reason we’re out here. A lot of the media has been spinning it off into something that it’s not.”
He explained that it seems people often try to push against NPI before they have even heard what the group has to say.
“People get ‘riled up,’ emotions get tense, and, at that point, you’re coming out here with the mindset that ‘we’re already against you all,’” he said. “We want to sit down and say, ‘we love you all,’ we want to have these conversations and we want to talk. We want people to see that we’re not against the All Lives Matter movement, we’re not against Veterans, we’re not against LGBTQ, we’re just highlighting the one that’s under fire and has been under fire for centuries.”
He went on to tell the Review that one of the most beneficial conversations he had at the event when he discussed NPI’s views of Black Lives Matter.
“I had some people who didn’t realize that we weren’t saying that all lives don’t matter,” he said. “They said, ‘we just assumed that when you’re screaming ‘Black Lives Matter,’ you’re meaning that we DON’T matter.”
“Make sure everyone has fair dialogue”
Christopher Mulllins, who is head of security for NPI told the Review that the response he received was mixed.
“There’s a lot of passions, and you can’t really judge people’s passion levels,” he said during the protest. “Most people are angry, but then they calm down, they diffuse and then they talk. Most of these people are talking at this point.”
He added, “We want to spread equality, justice and knowledge throughout all of Tennessee and hopefully the world. We don’t come to start any rioting or cause any type of ruckus but to inform and educate. We do it by causing a big scene and then we make you have that conversation that you can take back to the dinner table.”
Even though he had experienced some pushback from the counter protestors, he was still glad to be having some dialogue.
“Having this dialogue is going to help us take these important conversations back to the dinner table where all of the habits are taught,” he said. “What we really want is to be thought provocative. You get called all types of derogatory words, so you’ve got to diffuse those. After that, every conversation you have is beneficial. It doesn’t matter what they say to you—it’s more about how you respond. You make sure they understand that you love them and the reason that we came out, which is to unify everybody and ensure everyone has fair dialogue. We want to make sure everyone has fair dialogue. It’s not a monologue—we’re not screaming and we don’t use derogatory words towards them.”
He added, “The people who actually showed up today, those are the people who care about America. The people who stay home and judge from social media are the real threats to our country because they refuse to use their voice. At least these people care enough about their voice that they came out today.”
“There are no issues in Rogersville between race”
The Review also spoke with several counter protestors, many of whom had driven into Rogersville from surrounding areas just for the protest.
“I’m here because I’ve lived in Rogersville my whole life, there’s black people and white people here, and we’ve always gotten along,” One counter protestor, who wished to remain anonymnous, told the Review. “There are no issues in Rogersville between race. They (protestors) come in and stir up trouble where there is none. We don’t want the trouble in our town that we see in all these other places, and we want to show our opposition. Any one of these people (protestors) could have walked down our streets at any time, and nobody would have bothered them. It’s not a racist place, but, now that they’re here stirring up race problems, there will be division between the races because all of this is polarized.”
When asked if he had any one-on-one conversations with protestors, he said, “No. You’re not going to talk any sense into them. If they had any sense, they wouldn’t be over there. So, I don’t engage with them.”
He also added that he felt the protest was a waste of taxpayer money.
“It looks like the town just wasted a lot of money—that the taxpayers paid for—for all of these policemen to be here,” he said. “They HAD to be here, but it was a big waste of money for Rogersville because they (protestors) came down here stirring up trouble where there wasn’t any.”
“Black Lives Matter is the dismantling of America”
Another counter protestor told the Review that he came all the way from Claiborne County to show his opposition to the protest.
“What Black Lives Matter is, is the dismantling of America,” he said. “What you see going on in New York, Seattle and everywhere else is starting to grow. You’re seeing it pop up everywhere. They’re wanting to tear statues down, dismantle Veterans Memorials, and I am here to show support for Veterans because I am a Veteran. I’m fed up with what’s going on, so I’m here to show moral support and make sure this town doesn’t get dismantled or terrorized.”
The counter-protestor, who asked to remain anonymous, told the Review that he had served in the Army from 1986 to 1990.
“I don’t understand why they’re having this protest,” he added. “What are they protesting for? There’s nothing going on. The things that happened to George Floyd, everybody had a problem with that, including a lot of white people. They’ve just beat that into the ground, but now they’re turning it into another agenda, and it’s growing. What they’re doing is creating racism and problems as far as us being able to reach across to one another.”
Counter protestor throws gifted flowers into crowd
Several counter protestors who spoke with the Review shared their concern over the Veterans Memorial in front of the courthouse, citing incidents in other towns where protestors have torn down or defaced monuments.
“We come in peace, “an NPI member shouted over a megaphone when they first arrived. “We do not want your monument. We have veterans in this crowd right now.”
Near the end of the protest, NPI members attempted to place flowers on the Hawkins Co. War Memorial on the Courthouse lawn.
Arresting officer Cpl. Eric Pease stated that counter protestor Daniel Lee Starnes, 41 Bulls Gap, became irate in response, “at which point the Sheriff got the flowers and was going to put the flowers on the monument when Mr. Starnes approached the Sheriff in an aggressive manner and grabbed the flowers and threw them into the crowd”.
A total of nine arrests were made at the event by the Rogersville Police Department and the Hawkins Co. Sheriff’s Office:
HAWKINS CO. SHERIFF’S OFFICE
• Daniel Lee Starnes, 41, Bulls Gap, who was charged with disorderly conduct. Starnes was taken to the Hawkins Co. Jail where a July 13, 2020 arraignment appearance was scheduled in Sessions Court.
• Joshua Blakeney, 20, of Morristown, who was charged with disorderly conduct.
According to the report by arresting officer, Cpl. Eric Pease, Blakeney “became violent and started trying to assault several people in the crowd”.
Blakeney was taken to the Hawkins Co. Jail where a July 13, 2020 arraignment appearance was scheduled in Sessions Court.
• Sean Camron Kauffmann, 26, of Vail, AZ, who was charged with disorderly conduct.
According to the report by arresting officer, Cpl. Eric Pease, Kauffmann “became violent and started trying to assault several people in the crowd”.
Kauffman was taken to the Hawkins Co. Jail where a July 13, 2020 arraignment appearance was scheduled in Sessions Court.
• Garon Joseph Archer, 25, of Johnson City, who was charged with disorderly conduct.
The report by Cpl. Eric Pease, the arresting officer, stated that Archer “became violent and started trying to assault several people in the crowd”.
Archer was placed under arrest and taken to the Hawkins Co. Jail where a July 13, 2020 arraignment appearance was scheduled in Sessions Court.
ROGERSVILLE POLICE DEPARTMENT
Arrest reports filed by Officer Josh Byrd indicate that five arrests were made by the department after a “large group of male subjects within the protest” were observed to be “yelling, using racial slurs numerous times”.
“These comments were an attempt to agitate the other peaceful protestors and was creating a hazardous situation to the other protestors and officers,” the reports state, “this due to a possible fight ensuing”.
A short time later, officers observed “a large fight taking place”, which included several males of the aforementioned group.
It was determined that the five who were arrested had “aided in the physical altercation or had influence with events leading up to the altercation,” the reports state.
Each of those arrested were charged with disorderly conduct and transported to the Hawkins Co. Jail where arraignment hearings were scheduled for Monday, July 13:
• Caleb Dane Rose, 21, of Knoxville;
• Adam Lawrence Rice, 24, of Maryville;
• Cory Smith, 25, of Knoxville;
• Stephen Parker Smith, 28, of Louisville; and,
• Craig Briggs Spaulding, 32, of Knoxville.
A full photo and video gallery from the event can be found on the Review’s website, https://www.therogersvillereview.com/, and Facebook page.